Work got you down? Feel like your creative juices just aren’t flowing at full force? Well, you might want to consider the space in which you work. Studies have shown that a good workspace can have a positive influence on our state of mind. A 2013 study, for example, found that allowing workers to personalize their workspaces can combat the exhausting effects of an open-plan office.
Science aside, most of us already know from experience that a space that makes us happy makes it easier for us to function. So, let’s look at what makes a workspace good—or more accurately, what makes a workspace better for your mood, motivation, and productivity.
01. Hack Your Lighting
Because natural daylight has been associated with higher levels of alertness, mood and cognitive performance, choose a work area that gets natural sunlight during the day. If this isn’t possible, invest in a full-spectrum bulb positioned for bright, ambient (indirect) lighting. Don’t despair if you can’t control the lighting; short morning and afternoon walk breaks can still give you the boost you need to stay focused.
You can play around with the lights from your electronics as well. You've probably heard to shut down screens thirty minutes before bed—this is because of the stimulative effect blue light waves have on our circadian rhythm, keeping us awake and agitated when we need to get to sleep. Opt for red- or yellow-hued lighting in the evening, as these contain less of the blue light present in daylight. Avoid looking at bright screens in the hours before bed. If you tend to work late, consider using software like f.lux to filter out unnecessary blue light after sundown.
02. Cut the Clutter
Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that visual clutter has a negative impact on our focus, as it keeps the brain busy forming and maintaining mental models of our environments. That’s not to say you should aim for an austere workspace—studies have also found that a little mess can stimulate creativity. It all comes down to optimizing your space for the way you work. Start by throwing out or storing unnecessary elements of your creative space. I’ve found the KonMari method an effective system for decluttering and organizing.
Clutter doesn’t only present itself on our desks. Creative minds are naturally cluttered with millions of ideas, and busy lives are littered with a cacophony of appointments and responsibilities. If tidying up hasn’t yet unblocked your productive flow, it could be worth decluttering your mind as well.
03. Regulate Sound
Both background noise and bursts of noise act as clutter in the brain, which has to constantly process sensory inputs from our surroundings. Exposure to ‘noise pollution’ has been found to not only cause annoyance, lapses in concentration, and a decrease in cognitive performance, but it can also lead to adverse health effects through continued activation of the body’s stress response.
Headphones are a quick, easy way to shut out surrounding noise, particularly in shared offices. Noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs work wonders if silence is your focus booster. But if you need some sound to keep from going mad, seek out the right type of music for your task, or tune into Noisli or Defonic for soothing white noise.
04. Freshen Up
Have you ever caught a scent that reminded you of the past? Maybe a childhood event or the memory of an old flame? Thanks to these conditioned memories, smells can have an intense impact on our moods, and affect our state of mind when carrying out a task. Similarly, strong or unpleasant smells can often serve as a distraction or deterrent to productivity, more so if those smells cause irritation or trigger allergies.
Consider adding essential oils to your workspace, selecting fresh and pleasing scents that help you stay focused and positive when you work. Be sure to check with your colleagues if you share an office space, as a smell that works for you might be disruptive to others. If you happen to sit near someone with overwhelming perfume or deodorant, try to develop the kind of relationship where you can bring it up without hurting their feelings. In the meantime, take frequent fresh air breaks to clear your head.
05. Don’t Forget to Clean
Give your workspace a good wipe-down every now and then. Without litter, stains, and grime adding to your cognitive load and dust triggering allergies, you can improve the health quality of your workspace and thus your mood and focus.
Wipe away water rings, coffee splashes, crumbs, hairs, the crevices of your keyboard—all the little things that can really add up if ignored. If you run a home office with kids and pets, don't forget to vacuum every week or two and scrub smudges off walls and surfaces every so often. Keeping a clean—not just tidy—work environment makes a big difference.
06. Plant a Seed
Plants make us feel better and can contribute to better moods and an increase in productivity in the work environment. In 1989, a study conducted by NASA identified plants that can improve the quality of indoor air, having positive effects on cognitive performance.
To freshen and spruce up your workspace, choose plants that are suitable for indoor environments. Though indoor plants still prefer bright, indirect sunlight, many low maintenance species such as pothos, dracaenas, peace lilies, ficus and Zanzibar gems will tolerate both low light and occasional neglect.
07. Manage Interruptions
Constant interruptions can make it hard to find and maintain your flow. They’re such a problem that a whole branch of science exists just to study and relieve their negative impacts. Managing interruptions really comes down to managing those around you, whether they be co-workers, family, children or pets.
Establish a polite but clear signal system to let others know when you need to be left alone: a “Please do not disturb” sign, use of headphones, a closed door, or even a designated hour of the day can go a long way to preventing interruptions and preserving the sanctity of your workspace.
Dealing with an interruption after the fact will require some patience. Politely let your interruptor know you’re busy and ask them to email you, or suggest a future time where you expect to give them your full attention. It will give others an opportunity to get used to the peaks and troughs of your day.
As Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” And the place where you “perspire” makes a big difference. Creativity is a wonderful form of self-care, and setting up your personal area so that it’s conducive to flow can help you maintain your creative output and satisfaction—wherever you are.
Photo Credit: Sara Kiesling